Sunday, April 16, 2017

Heroes, Then and Now

Heroes, Then and Now



Nahshon, Lunette Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo
On Shabbat Touro Synagogue had many visitors. One of our witty locals quipped, “What’s this? Are we in Brooklyn?” 

Visitors were also present from Connecticut, New Jersey, and Chicago. We were joined by Jackie Mandel's parents from Los Angeles, and by the Mandel's son-in-law and daughter Rabbi Yaakov and Kayla Lasson and grandson Abie from Detroit. The congregation kvelled over Abie together with the family.

Edward Sopher, a New York attorney originally from London whose father was born in Bombay, wrote that his visit was “Quite special.  A beautiful and bright synagogue. And very reminiscent of the classic Spanish and Portuguese style, only much brighter and without the choir box. It’s notable and inspiring to see a synagogue slap-bang in the middle of town with big windows on every side-showing more confidence in the promise of freedom of religion than in the 15 other countries I have visited, where the synagogue is always down some side road with obscured windows facing the alleyway.” 

In the afternoon, I attended mincha at Temple Israel in Sharon, Massachusetts. I told Eldad Ganin about meeting Edward Sopher and his face lit up. Eldad often travels on business. Each time he has been in Mumbai, India (Bombay), he has met Shlomo Sopher. Edward Sopher confirmed, “In Bombay Solomon Sopher took over looking after the Fort synagogue after my uncle died.  He is ironically more closely related on his mother's side than my father's, but he knows my father David Sopher quite well.” 

In the Torah reading for Pesach Shabbat Hol Hamoed, Moses was the reluctant prophet, so God had the grace to show Moses his backside.  The focus on the body was carried to the extreme in the haftarah from Ezekiel, in the valley of the dried bones. The bones reassembled themselves…with God’s help. The message: A scattered Israel could also be reassembled.

Rabbi Mandel discussed the parsha, although the incident he referred to is not mentioned in the Torah, but in the Talmud. 

“Who is the hero of passover? Is it Moshe? Not according to the Talmud. According to the Talmud, the Egyptians were chasing the Jews-and when the jews reached the water they were trapped. They didn’t know what to do-Moshe was praying. In Sotah 37a we are told, ‘Moses was prolonging his prayer. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: ‘My beloved ones are drowning in the sea and you prolong your prayer to me?’ Moses said before Him: ‘Master of the Universe, but what can I do?’ God said to him: ‘Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward. And you, lift up your rod and stretch out your hand (Exodus 14:15-16).’”

“Israel lacked confidence in Moshe. Nachshon ben Aminadav had confidence and faith that Moshe was the true messenger of Hashem. He dove into the sea with full faith in Moshe’s ability to save the people, and the waters parted. Israel followed Nachshon’s example.”

Sometimes it takes a person like Nachshon to push forward and make things happen. So Nachshon is the hero of the Exodus.

The rabbi said that most synagogues are run by boards composed of volunteers, and they sometimes have trouble making decisions. He thanked the board members of our congregation who provide the leadership that we need and benefit from. 

Rabbi Mandel also mentioned Karen and Gerry Goldberg, who were visiting from Connecticut. “They are leaders of the Jewish community in West Harford,” he said, “like Nachshon Ben Aminadav, who was the first to jump in the water, and then the sea split.”

Roger Williams also made things happen. He went to London to secure Rhode Island’s colonial charter. The charter featured freedom of religion, separation of church and state, fair treatment of Indians by  recognizing that they owned their land, and the right of the residents to elect the Colonial government and enact their own laws. Williams was also against slavery, but after he died in 1700, the town of Newport insisted that slavery be permitted, and its merchants engaged in the slave trade.

The obituary in the New York Times described Robert Taylor as an innovator in the world of computers. 

In 1966, on his first day as the director of the Information Processing Techniques Office, part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as ARPA at the Pentagon, he realized that the three computers that the agency was funding needed a way to connect. He spoke with his boss, who took one million dollars out of ballistic missile defense to solve the problem. This led to Arapnet, which was a precursor to the internet.  Dayenu! That accomplishment would have been enough for one man.

But in 1961 he was working for NASA, and heard about Douglas Engelbart who was studying how humans would interact with computers. Taylor put money into the project, which led to the computer mouse, invented by Engelbart. Dayenu!

In 1991, Taylor created the Digital Equipment Systems Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, California. The Laboratory created one of the first internet search engines AltaVista. Dayenu!

Robert Taylor died of complications of Parkinson’s disease on Thursday, April 13, 2017.

Shabbat Shalom!  @tourosynagoguenewport @templeisraelSharon 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Passover Reflections

Passover Reflections

by Aaron Ginsburg 


Passover starts long before we sit down for the seder. First there is a thorough house cleaning, during which I discovered that those blue circles on the kitchen floor were the remains, flattened and dried, of 6 months of blueberries that rolled off the table. I was very surprised to learn the floor was a boring gray.  

The object of all the cleaning is to get rid of the chametz. Just to be safe, Jewish law provides a loophole; the chametz that remains is sold, usually to a rabbi, who then resells it to a non-jew. At the end of Passover, it is repurchased. 

On Sunday I picked up food for 70 people from Zayde’s Market, in Canton, Ma, for the  Congregation Jeshuat Israel (Touro Synagogue Newport, RI) community seder. On arrival in Newport there was a whole crew getting the Levi Gale house ready for the seder.

On Monday morning I attended services at Temple Israel, Sharon, MA. It was the fast of the first born. It’s a very minor fast, and after studying some Talmud, a siyyum made that fast unnecessary. There were a lot of people at services, far more than at our usual daily minyanim. I don’t think it was for the food!

Selling and burning of the Chametz was the next order of business, under the leadership of Rabbi Ron Fish, who had both the sales contract and the lighter fluid ready to go.  Lulavim (palm branches) from Sukkot were used for fuel.

On the first night I attended a community seder led by Rabbi Yossi Kivman at Chabad in Mansfield, Ma. His wife Tzivi was ill…the Rabbi soldiered on. Tzvi is starting to feel better. The seder was running a little late, so I went home and had an instant seder. I boiled an egg for the seder plate, and made my 5 minute Italian charoset. Actually, it took me 35 minutes to remember how to assemble the blende, so it was 40 minute charoset!  A rolled up slice of Turkey filled in for the zeroa (shank bone). It’s amazing how fast a seder can be when you don’t have an audience.

On the first day of Passover, the haftarah is Joshua 5:2-6:1.  There is curious incident at the end of the haftarah,

“13 Once, when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him, drawn sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and asked him, "Are you one of us or of our enemies?" 14 He replied, "No, I am captain of the Lord's host. Now I have come!" Joshua threw himself face down on the ground and, prostrating himself, said to him, "What does my lord command his servant?" 15 The captain of the Lord's host answered Joshua, "Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy." And Joshua did so.”

When Joshua asked the messenger what he was commanded, he was obviously expecting something important.  No such luck!  “Take off your sandals!” The messenger called out Joshua for being rude, and by implication haughty.

It’s unlikely that Joshua, a prophet noted for his piety, needed to be reminded that he was God’s servant. So who is the message for? Undoubtedly the message is for us, the readers of this passage.  

When we burn the chametz that we eat, we should also be banishing the chametz in our minds, including the idea that we are number one.

Later, I traveled on to the community seder at Touro Synagogue in Newport. I was delayed by one hour by an accident on Route 24 south. My friends in Newport told me they were worried about me. It’s nice to be missed.

Rabbi Marc Mandel led a spirited seder for 70 people. To break the ice, some of tables had to guess a Passover item after hearing three clues. As the meal was being served, the Rabbi called on several people to describe synagogues they had visited. We heard about synagogues in the US Virgin Islands, CuraçaoPonta Delgada, Portugal (Azores), Rome, and Kiev. 

Zayde’s food was a hit in Newport. It was good, and there was plenty of it.  Thanks to Josh Ruboy and the crew. I’m sure most of us avoided the scale for a few days. 

Chag Sameach!

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Zissen Peisach!

A Zissen Peisach!


Shabbat was almost entirely a local affair at Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI. 

Among the visitors were Amir Sofer, his wife and children. Amir is the mayor of the Merom HaGalil Regional Council  מועצה אזורית מרום הגליל which was established in 1950. It covers an area of 69 square miles, and consists of 14 moshavim, one kibbutz, 8 communal settlements, a Druze village, and a Circassian village. The total population in 2014 was 14,600.  

By way of comparison, the Dokshitsy District in Belarus is 810 square miles, and has a population of about 30,000.

Moshav Meron is one of the communities in the district. There is a lot of action there on Lag BaOmer. The Zohar, which was attributed to Rabbi Shimon, said that Rabbi Shimon’s hillula (Yahrzeit) was on Lag BaOmer. Pilgrimages to the burial cave in Meron have been documented from the 12th century. Nowadays almost a million people make the pilgrimage on Lag BaOmer. It's Israel’s Woodstock!

As Rabbi Marc Mandel explained, the Haftarah spoke about the prophet Elijah, who traditionally visits all seders, 

“The Shabbat before Peisach is called Shabbat HaGadol, the Large Shabbat. Why is it called שבת הגדול?

'No one knows for sure. Some say it’s because of the last posuk of the special Haftarah,  Malachi 3:4 - 3:24

הִנֵּ֤ה אָֽנֹכִי֙ שֹׁלֵ֣חַ לָכֶ֔ם אֵ֖ת אֵלִיָּ֣ה הַנָּבִ֑יא  

‘Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet and he shall restore the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of the children to the parents.’  לִפְנֵ֗י בּ֚וֹא י֣וֹם יְהוָ֔ה הַגָּד֖וֹל וְהַנּוֹרָֽא 'before the great and awesome day.'

'Because the haftarah ends with the word גדול, some say it is called Shabbat Hagadol. 

"But it's fascinating that the theme of the haftarah ends with the relationship between parents and children and that one of the main themes of the holiday is
 וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, ‘And you shall tell your children about the story of Pesach.’

"When I was with my family for Purim, we discussed where our kids would be for Pesach, and when I said that my kids were working at Pesach programs, my sister  was surprised and said, ‘That's not what we do.’”

To the best of (limited) memory, Rabbi Mandel told us that helping other families celebrate the holiday was a worthwhile experience.

Jewish Newport wishes you all a zissin peisach, whether or not you are with your familiy, whether you are on the sea, on the land, on a plane, or on an island. Chag sameach!  
!חַג שָׂמֵחַ